Learning how to love and like yourself is important in life.
It means you can take yourself on dates, and even holidays, always knowing that you are in the best possible company.
More seriously, if you’ve ever battled periods of low self-esteem, then you’ll know how much liking yourself matters. Once you have that self-love piece figured, everything else is easier. Setbacks, challenges or even abject failure aren’t such a catastrophe.
This post looks what why you should learn to like yourself if you haven’t already, and identifies the two key practices for liking yourself better/harder.
Why you need to like yourself, but probably don’t
When it comes to self-love, we all have our work cut out.
That’s because we are born hyper-vigilant to the threat of not being accepted, and when inevitably that happens, we internalize the messages that we aren’t ‘enough’.
As we progress through life, we continue to use outer world feedback to inform our own self-image. You learn that you kind of have to become your own BFF, as nobody around you can do that job consistently.
Also, loving and liking yourself is how you become effective at self-care, or self-management. Another word for self-management is having good habits. Our habits – the tendencies that make up our days and lives – are the closest thing to an identity that we have.
Your physical habits encompass everything from your nutrition and exercise routines, to your ability to manage your time and energy. Psychological habits include things like whether you easily succumb to stress or dark thoughts, how well you communicate, or whether you suffer with any neurotic or compulsive behaviour.
All habits fall into one of two categories: they either serve your aspirational (aka best) self or they don’t. In learning to appreciate yourself, your habits will naturally go the first way. Our habits are the evidence of what we think of ourselves. They can not and do not lie.
Have you ever noticed that it is easier to stick to a healthy eating regime once you already feel quite good about yourself? There is a reason for that. When you see yourself as something worth investing in, you do. On the other hand, when it’s the opposite, you lose momentum easily.
What stops us from liking or loving ourselves
Many of us worry that if we actually like ourselves, we might stop striving for betterment. We think that the critic is the only thing keeping us in check.
It isn’t true. I know, as I have been highly self-critical and blamed myself excessively for mistakes and failures. It made me miserable and motivated, when I could have just been motivated.
You probably relate to what I say. But even if you don’t, you might relate to the thought that ‘I can’t be myself’, or ‘If I don’t point out other people’s flaws then they’ll never correct themselves’, or ‘if I accept them for who they are, they’ll never change.’
None of these are accurate. It’s a lot better to learn to like and love yourself, and then watch your experience of those around you – as well as your whole life – change.
How to like yourself
It might seem like we all need to do slightly different things to learn to like and love ourselves. But there are two key things that apply to all of us. They are the practices of self-compassion and integrity.
Your capacity for self-compassion is how you treat yourself in instances of perceived inadequacy, failure, or general suffering. And your integrity is how whole and complete you see yourself, and how often you let the ‘dark’ part of you win.
The rest of this post looks at what each of these are, why they are important, and some of the challenges you’ll encounter when you practice them.
What is integrity?
There are a lot of meanings of integrity. For this post’s purposes, it’s about being whole and complete. You can’t like yourself consistently without recognizing yourself as a person with imperfect parts as well as the positive stuff, and vice versa.
The unhealthy parts of us will always try to wrest control of the wheel. These are the parts that want to retract into a state of hurt when our partners upset us, or spend weeks procrastinating on accomplishing our projects, or pursue relationships that we know will lead to doom and gloom. These actions all lack integrity because they take us away from what we really want.
Having integrity means seeing all that, and ensuring that the healthiest parts of you win out again and again. That’s how we build a reservoir of self-approval. To illustrate, here is a tale.
Two Wolves – A Cherokee Parable:
A grandfather is talking with his grandson and he says there are two wolves inside of us which are always at war with each other.
One of them is a good wolf which represents things like kindness, bravery and love. The other is a bad wolf, which represents things like greed, hatred and fear.
The grandson stops and thinks about it for a second then he looks up at his grandfather and says, “Grandfather, which one wins?”
The grandfather quietly replies, the one you feed.
Anytime you behave aggressively, or oppress your true feelings (just common examples), it takes you out of integrity with yourself. You ignore the ‘wolf that is good’ while unconsciously feeding the ‘wolf that is bad’.
How to develop integrity
Integrity doesn’t just happen: it emerges out of system of things including introspection, clarifying what’s important to you, self-awareness and self-discipline.
We have the ability to cultivate all those things. Here are the key things to do:
1. Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness, which I wrote a guide to here, is the ability to observe our thoughts instead of attaching to them. With practice comes the capacity to assess whether or not they’re the thoughts we want.
2. Define your values to yourself: These show you what your good wolf would do. They help to highlight the path. If you need clarity on your values, read this.
3. Get a deep understanding of the nature of your ego and identity: Your ego structure helps show you when you are most likely to go out of integrity with yourself. To do this, identify your personality type and develop an understanding of your hidden or Shadow self.
4. Get complete with your past: We all need to deal with emotional trauma that was out of our control. Without doing so, our pasts can continue to define the future.
There are so many resources available now to help us all to do that. For those dealing with big traumas, therapy is the best bet. For more manageable traumatic experiences, the internet may be your best friend. Try typing ‘developing emotional health’ in any search engine and you’ll come up with articles like this.
5. Develop self-discipline: Self-discipline is your friend when it comes to a life of integrity, as you need to overcome yourself repeatedly.
I think that one of the best ways to develop self-discipline is to ‘throw your hat over the fence’ and give yourself no escape once you’ve committed to something – whether that’s building a business or creating a great romantic partnership. You have to stay focused and be ruthless with keeping your integrity.
What is self-compassion?
Dr Kristin Neff, a world expert on compassion, defines self-compassion as being gentle, kind and understanding with yourself. And also, accepting that you are not perfect and that there is potential for learning and growth in every mistake you make.
How to develop self-compassion
1. Practice mindfulness (again). There is a reason why mindfulness is one of the reality red pill practices in my book. The habit has been found to have a positive impact on self-compassion, as it has the tendency to lessen self-judgement.
Practice being aware of whatever is happening right now without judgment and labeling. Allow what you think or feel to have its moment: neither give it center stage nor hide it. This will help you to become more compassionate with yourself.
2. Focus on developing a growth mindset. The Professor of Psychology Carol Dweck’s research found that whether we have a fixed or growth mindset influences our happiness.
Become aware of your view of the world and try to employ a growth mindset. Embrace rather than avoid challenges, persist in finding meaning in them, don’t give up on yourself. For an article on how to develop a growth mindset, read this.
3. Practice gratitude. Gratitude reorients everyone – when we remember to do it, we become a lot healthier. Rather than wishing for what we do not have, we find strength in appreciating what we do. For a guide to developing a pervasively grateful mindset, read this.
4. Practice generosity: Being generous towards others – and it could be something as simple as giving them the benefit of the doubt – makes us more compassionate. But know that for generosity to work in favor of your wellbeing, it cannot be totally selfless. So when being generous, make sure you are aware of your own needs before progressing.
5. Meditate your way to self-compassion: Finally, to develop self-compassion, experiment with these guided meditations.
It’s probably unrealistic to expect that you’ll never have a self-critical thought ever again. Or that you’ll never behave in ways that don’t serve your most aspirational self.
But if you genuinely like yourself, then most of the time you will choose the right actions. You’ll create even more reasons to like and love yourself. And that is what I call a positive feedback loop!
Intentionally build more integrity in life, and grow your levels of self-compassion.
And for anyone who still believes that their harsh inner critic is the only thing standing between them and the life of a bum? To you I’d say this:
It’s not going to happen.